A piece of precious material, richly ornamented, that was historically used to cover the entire front of an altar. The use of the antependium is probably derived from the practice of the early Church of covering the table-altar with a colored fabric. The antependium became an element in the decoration of the altar from the 4th century in the East and the 5th in the West. It used to be prescribed by a rubric of the Roman Missal, but the 1960 revision of the Code of Rubrics dropped all references to it in dealing with the preparation of the altar for Mass (526). Until the 13th century the color for the antependium was not determined, but since then it was fixed as the liturgical color of the day. There were two exceptions to this rule: at an altar where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed the frontal was to be white; for a Requiem Mass at an altar where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved the frontal was to be violet.
Bibliography: j. b. o'connell, Church Building and Furnishing (Notre Dame, IN 1955) 192–196. j. braun, I Paramenti sacri, tr. g. alliod (Turin 1914) 171–176. p. radÓ, Enchiridion liturgicum, 2 v. (Rome 1961) 2:1410.
[j. b. o'connell/eds.]